He may have been Clyde, but she was no Bonnie. She didn't want to be Bonnie, didn't really want to be with Clyde either, but he scared her into staying with him, and after awhile she thought it was love.
Monica Winnie, 18, knew Neal Beckman, 35, was an outlaw, but she didn't know he was so far outside the law he'd shoot a cop. Monica saw her outlaw as smart and funny and quick to defend her. Gallant.
“He always stood up for me, and he was always nice to me,” Monica would say. “And he was exciting.”
Neal Beckman was exciting. No one will deny him that.
But Monica also knew he'd been to prison, and she'd heard Neal say he wasn't going back, although she knew he was doing things that would get him sent back as soon as Neal was caught doing them.
But there he was, and there was something about Neal that drew Monica to him. He'd be there for her, which was more than she could say for her previous boyfriend, the “All-American Mr. Clean” who'd dumped her just when she needed him most.
Jeff and Patty Winnie, Monica's beleaguered parents, didn't know what to make of their daughter's new boy friend at first, but they soon learned that their little girl had brought home a two-strike felon with a history of violent crimes all the way back to his early teens.
Exactly a week after their first encounter with Mr. Beckman, Mr. and Mrs. Winnie were being depicted on the front pages of newspapers as proprietors of a Willits bomb factory, and their daughter was being portrayed as a latter-day gun moll.
The Winnies' house guest had shot a cop. The cop had shot him with their Monica sitting handcuffed a foot away from the fusillade.
How did a nice girl like Monica wind up handcuffed in the back seat of a cop car with her boy friend dying of gunshot wounds in the front seat, the cop who shot him staring eerily up at her from where he lay half-dead only feet away; another man stretched out on the pavement bleeding from stab wounds, and her mom hyperventilating in shock at the door of the Ukiah WalMart?
Monica Winnie is pretty, she's intelligent, she's conventionally ambitious, and she's blessed with a kind of effervescent good humor that draws people to her. The incongruity of her and the late Mr. Beckman as a couple is as startling as, say, Patty Hearst's youthful interlude as a revolutionary, or all those 60's couples who went from wholesome star status in their high school yearbooks as Mr. and Miss Congeniality only to reappear as the lead debauchees of some sex and drug collective a few years later.
“He was a little guy, shorter than me even,” Monica says, remembering the man who breathed his last in the front seat of the Ukiah Police car as Monica who'd sat handcuffed in the back seat. “He looked the same age as me. But he was real strong. He could pick me up, and everyone was afraid of him. I'd known him before when I had another boy friend. Back then, when I was 17, Neal was kind of stalking me and threatening to kill me and stuff. Then my other boy friend suddenly just left me when I really needed him and there was Neal.”
Whose Cro-Magnon courtship won him the girl he wanted, and love's mysterious ways had racked up another one.
Monica briefly tears up when she thinks back. She's still seems a tiny bit beguiled by the guy.
“You know,” a veteran prosecutor explains, “there are a lot of women who go for guys like Beckman. Or versions of Beckman. I don't get it, but it's common. These babes you see on the back of Harleys? If you polled them probably half are lawyers and college professors.”
Could be. America is a democracy after all.
Unbeknownst to Monica, the cops had been watching her ever since she took up with Beckman because they kept close tabs on him. Anybody seen with him on a regular basis became a bad person by proximity. County law enforcement had Monica down in their Bad Person File. The cops were sure that Monica was shoplifting and doing other things for the Beckman Company that would eventually land her in jail.
“Beckman was a very scary guy,” a long-time Sheriff's Department deputy said recently. “We were always very much aware of Mr. Beckman. I'm not surprised he did what he did.”
Monica was, though.
A year and three months after being abandoned by the “straight, All-American” young man who'd promised to marry her, Monica's mom, Monica and Mr. Excitement pulled into the parking lot at the Ukiah WalMart. Mr. and Mrs. Winnie had been persuaded to let Neal stay with them until he found a permanent place to stay, but after their first 24 hours with their house guest they wanted Neal to find another place to live. On Neal's Last Night, Mrs. Winnie and Monica were driving him to a Ukiah motel when they stopped at WalMart so Mrs. Winnie could do a quick round of shopping before off-loading Beckman.
“Neal had everything he owned in a duffel bag,” Mrs. Winnie recalls. “I wanted to get a few things at WalMart and so did he.”
What Beckman got was death. What the Winnie family got was a ton of unwanted and wholly undeserved notoriety; they also got an ongoing legal bill that the 25-year, home-owning residents of Willits will be struggling to pay for years to come.
It was about 9pm when Patty Winnie, Monica and Beckman arrived at the Ukiah WalMart. Out of the hearing of Mrs. Winnie, Beckman had instructed Monica to take the receipt from his prior purchase of WalMart duffel bags, snag a package of identical bags from their shelf inside the store and exchange them for the $29 shown on his old receipt. Mrs. Winnie assumed Neal and Monica were going to wait for in her car. But after Mrs. Winnie was inside the store and safely out of sight, Monica jumped out of her mom's car and entered the store through its garden section door. Beckman simultaneously entered the store via its main entrance. Monica then met Beckman at the duffel bag shelf, thus nullifying their separate entrances. (Beckman didn't seem to be much of a one for two-step planning.) At the duffel bag shelf, Beckman handed Monica a package of bags identical to his previous purchase and told her to go up front and exchange them for cash.
Mr. B explained to Monica that he needed a few more bucks for his motel room rent. He'd apparently spent most of the Social Security Insurance check he received every month for having been declared an “anti-social personality type” — too mean to work. Beckman had persuaded one of Mendocino County's uniquely gullible shrinks to qualify him permanently 5150. He mostly spent his government stipend on methamphetamine.
A WalMart security guard instantly figured out that Neal and Monica were attempting to run a scam often seen in Ukiah's retail stores and Monica was detained as she walked out of the store with the 19 bucks. WalMart called the Ukiah Police to come and get her. A popular, long-time Ukiah cop by the name of Marcus Young soon appeared. Sgt. Young was accompanied by a 17-year-old student cadet named Julian Covella.
Monica takes it from here.
“Neal handed me the bags off the shelf. I took them and the receipt up to the return counter where they gave me the money. I was almost outside when Carolyn Schott, a WalMart security guard, stopped me. I didn't know it then but her husband is also a security guard at the store. He was the man who Neal stabbed. Anyway, Carolyn Schott and some other WalMart people took me into the back of the store to wait for the Ukiah police. Marcus Young showed up. He took some notes, read me my rights, put me in handcuffs. He was very nice to me. All the cops were nice to me that night. I didn't know where Neal was. He disappeared after he got me the bags off the shelf.
“So Marcus Young put me in the backseat of his car, which was right next to my mom's car, right in front of the store. I was sitting there handcuffed behind my back when Neal came walking up. He sat down on the hood of my mom's car, right next to where I sat in the cop car. Officer Young told Neal to get off the car and come over to him because another security guard had pointed Neal out as being in on the thing with me. They knew Neal was with me.
“Neal started right off asking Young, 'What did I do? What did I do?' I could here them talking, face-to-face — that close. Young asked Neal if he had any weapons. Neal said, 'Yeah. I have a knife.' Neal stuck his hand into his jacket and Young grabbed his arm. Next thing I knew Neal had a gun and was shooting it straight at Officer Young, and then they all fell down on the pavement and were wrestling around. The security guard and Young were trying to get Neal's arms, but it looked like Neal was too strong for them. Officer Young kept saying, 'Watch out for the knife. Get the knife!'
“Neal had already shot Marcus Young. Then Neal started stabbing the security guard (Schott). I didn't see the stabbing, but the security guard went down, too. Neal got up and ran to the police car. He didn't say anything to me until he got shot, then he said, 'I got shot in the head, babe. I'm dead.' He kept saying that. His body was shaking.
“I ducked down after Neal got shot and he kind of slumped over in the front seat. I thought he was just ducking down too when Officer Young started shooting at him. I didn't know Neal had been shot until he told me he'd been shot.”
Sgt. Young had been hit in his right shoulder, thus paralyzing his shooting hand. His protective vest had saved him certain death from Beckman's point-blank pistol fire. When Beckman had emptied his gun at the cop, knocking him to the pavement, he then began a savage, repeated stabbing of WalMart security man, Schott. Schott went down as Beckman leaped into the front seat of Sgt. Young's cop car where he struggled to free the gun secured to the rear of the front seat. Young, struggling to regain his feet, his right side disabled by the bullet to his shoulder, couldn't get his gun out of his holster. The police cadet, 17-year-old Covella, alertly freed Young's pistol from its holster, handed it to the dazed officer who then emptied it at Beckman, hitting Beckman in the head with one of the first rounds. Sgt. Young then collapsed onto the pavement.
Monica, gun fire exploding all around her, lay terrified only inches from her dying companion.
“Neal,” Monica continued, “was in the police car for a long time, shaking. He was about a foot from me. He was still shaking after they pulled him out of the police car. They really jerked him out of there. It looked like they dislocated his arm, they jerked him so hard. They put him face down and put handcuffs on him, and he was still shaking. Convulsing. There was blood everywhere, but he wasn't dead. Officer Young was looking straight up at me while the paramedics worked on him. They moved me to another squad car. I watched them give Neal resuscitation, but I think he died on the way to the hospital.”
Monica's dad, Jeff Winnie, remembers the man who came memorably to dinner. He'd thought he'd seen the last of Neal Beckman when his wife and daughter departed the Winnies' Willits home with Mr. B to deposit him in a Ukiah motel. Mr. Winnie was asleep when the phone rang and he learned the news that would keep him wide awake for what seemed like the entire following week.
“When we first met him, we didn't know what to think,” Jeff Winnie says. “He had those devil's horns tattooed on his head, but he looked so young we thought he was about the same age as Monica; and Monica liked him so we let him stay. We thought he was only going to be with us for a couple of days.”
The Winnies soon learned that their guest — their daughter's new love interest — was, in liberal Mendocino County's preferred expression of disapproval, “inappropriate.”
Jeff Winnie has a vivid memory of a family trip into town.
“One night when we all went out to dinner, the guy acted like a complete punk. He tried to start a fight with some guy he said was looking at Monica,” Monica's appalled father says. “And all he talked about was how much he liked drugs. He had to go.”
The Winnies prayed that Monica would soon want Neal out of her life.
Mrs. Winnie thought she was driving Mr. Beckman out of their lives when she stopped at WalMart that Friday night in early March and ten minutes later her daughter was in handcuffs and her berserk boy friend was shooting it out with a policeman in the parking lot!
Beckman was dead, but when the police discovered five “explosive devices” in the Winnie family car, the police thought they might have disrupted a whole family of bomb throwers. A task force soon appeared at the Winnie home in the hills southwest of Willits, and Monica and her dad were both in the Mendocino County Jail on charges related to possession of bomb making materials. Dad soon bailed out, and all charges against him were dropped.
Charges against Monica were not dropped. They included a bomb charge, and two burglaries, all three of which were either unfounded or inflated to their present state prison potential.
Despite her repeated denials that she had no idea that Neal Beckman had either a gun or five unarmed pipe bombs, Neal was dead and Monica was alive. And Neal had shot a cop. Monica had been with Mr. B so......
So, at a minimum, she needs to be scared straight.
“Needless to say,” begins Monica's beset mother, “The night it all happened, well, it was like a nightmare. I still can't believe it. Monica has no criminal history. She's a nice kid. She's still in school, she has goals, she has hopes. I was just about to drop this guy off at a motel after we stopped at WalMart. Monica and I were headed home to Willits — we thought. It all happened very fast. I was just coming out of the store. I'd already been told Monica had been arrested for shoplifting, and I was very unhappy about that. I figured Neal was involved somehow, and was looking forward to getting him away from all of us. So, I'm walking towards my car with Mike, a WalMart guy, when it all happens right in front of me.
“I couldn’t see Neal's face, but he seemed nice and calm and cool. He had on black pants, jacket, a cap. He was walking towards Officer Young in that chicken walk that the hood guys use. He was walking like a hoodlum, a cocky guy. I wondered what the heck he was doing. He walked right up to Officer Young and Officer Young says, 'I need to speak to you.' Neal starts in, 'What’d I do?' Both hands were in his pockets. Officer Young didn’t say anything derogatory to him. All he said was, 'Sir, please remove your hands from your pockets.' Neal said, 'What do you want me for? What’d I do?'
“I blinked, and next thing I knew Officer Young had his left hand up in front of him. I didn’t actually see the gun. I saw the muzzle flash. I saw Officer Young get hit in the stomach. The next shot looked like it hit him square in the face. I couldn't believe what I was seeing! I started dialing 911. I heard a couple more shots. I thought Officer Young was dead right there! Officer Young had hold of Neal's arm. Then Officer Young fell on him or pushed him up on the hood of my car. He was on top of him when Neal fired the second shot that looked like it hit Young right in the face.
“I really felt like the 911 operator was stupid. She asked a lot of stupid questions, although I'd made it clear that a policeman had just been shot. I was trying to tell her an officer was dead and she hung up on me! Maybe a minute later, I started hearing all kinds of sirens.
“The paramedics worked on Young and Schott in the ambulance for 30-45 minutes ( Schott is the WalMart security guard stabbed by Beckman immediately after the frenzied Beckman had emptied his gun into Sgt. Young.)
“Neal was in the police car where he'd been shot, shaking. Not actually dead. He was laying on the seat and twitching. Two officers came up to him while he was still twitching, pulled him out of the car, slammed him down on the pavement and handcuffed him. He laid there for 5-10 minutes until an EMT came over to Neal to work on him. They put him in the ambulance and took him away.
“That Friday night I'd stopped at WalMart, and the next thing I know my daughter's boy friend is shooting a cop on top of my car! And a week later my daughter is being talked about by John Walsh on America's Most Wanted! These three men said on national television that Neal Beckman made no attempt to free Monica. That he just climbed in the front seat of the police car with my daughter in the back seat to get more guns. If they were this Bonnie and Clyde team, why didn’t Neal open the back door and let Monica go so she could help him shoot people? Instead, he climbed in the police car to get more guns where Officer Young, God bless him, did what he did. But as Bonnie and Clyde? No way. It's a miracle she wasn't hit with all the bullets flying around. But if Neal had got hold of that automatic weapon in the police car..... God!”
Monica says her lethal adventure at WalMart has cured her of exciting guys. She says she wants to finish school and pursue a career working with autistic children, a goal she adopted after spending long hours with the autistic child of a relative. She hopes her plans have only been temporarily derailed.
Everyone, including the everyones in the justice system, is similarly hopeful for Monica. In an agreement worked out by Linda Thompson of the Public Defender's Office and Dan Haehl, Assistant District Attorney, Monica, who is out of jail to care for her still shaken, diabetic mother, will plead guilty to a misdemeanor burglary, a felony burglary and a misdemeanor bomb charge. The two burglaries include a shop lift of one blouse from JC Penny's by a friend of Monica's; the $19 bunco attempt devised by Beckman at WalMart; and one count of possession of an explosive device brought against her on the assumption Monica knew Beckman possessed the things. One of the shoplifts is the felony, the bomb charge has been filed as a misdemeanor, as has the second shoplift.
(Beckman had ordered Monica to make a list of things he wanted her to buy for him the next time she left the Winnie home. The list was discovered in Monica's diary. “I didn't even know what the stuff was,” Monica says. “He just told me where to get it in town. IMR-40-64? I just wrote it down. My dad told me later he make bullets out of it for his gun. I'd never heard of it.”)
The DA's skepticism about the degree of Monica's knowledge of her boyfriend's weapons is understandable. From law enforcement's perspective Monica had been hanging out with crooks for more than a year and had to have been aware that Beckman was involved in criminal activity. Her arrest, even if it's based on extremely tenuous particulars, is probably the best thing that could have happened to her.
Monica seems to agree.
“I don't want to go to prison. I don't like jail. And I think everything that happened that night was horrible. It's not me.”
Monica will be back in court Wednesday morning, May 21st. It is likely her sentence will consist of time already served in the Mendocino County Jail, plus five years of felony probation.
Nobody wants to see her in prison. Everyone likes her, everyone is pulling for her.